Criminal Law

What Is Assault?

Key Takeaways:

  • Assault involves any threat that puts the victim in reasonable fear of imminent harm. 
  • Penalties for criminal assault can depend on whether the defendant is convicted of simple assault or aggravated assault. 
  • Acting in self-defense or in the defense of others are legal defenses to criminal assault charges.

Many people believe that assault is a crime that requires actual physical injury, but that isn’t always the case. The crime of assault includes any threat of or attempt to physically harm another individual. Unwanted touching or threatening to touch someone also qualifies as assault.

Criminal laws for assault and battery depend on state law. Assault offenses and criminal defense options vary by state. For more information about your legal rights after an assault charge, talk to a local criminal defense attorney.

What Are the Different Types of Assault?

Assault can have several different meanings. Some types of assault are more serious in the eyes of the law than others. Understanding these differences is important, especially if you are facing charges in an assault case.

  • Simple assault generally involves assault without a weapon. Simple assault injuries are usually minor. Punching someone is usually an example of simple assault. Simple assault is generally categorized as a misdemeanor.
  • Felony assault, also known in some states as aggravated assault generally involves serious bodily harm. Felony assault could also involve using a deadly weapon or firearm. Aggravated assault can also depend on the victim. Assault against a police officer is a type of felony assault category.
  • Sexual assault charges involve threats of sexual violence against the victim.

Different states use different terms when naming criminal offenses. For example, verbal assault in one state could be under a different criminal offense in another state.

What’s the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

The terms assault and battery are often used together. However, the definitions of criminal assault and criminal battery can be different. Assault does not need personal injury or contact. The definition of assault can include an intentional act that puts someone in reasonable fear of imminent harm. Assault doesn’t need the victim to suffer any physical contact.

Battery charges usually need physical touching between the offender and the victim. Battery does not have to result in bodily injury. Even offensive contact can be battery. Even the lightest physical contact can be battery. Simple battery charges are usually misdemeanors. Some states do not have specific battery offenses and categorize all offenses as a type of assault.

What Is Aggravated Assault or Battery?

Aggravated assault — or aggravated battery — is a more serious charge than simple assault. Assaults involving deadly weapons like knives or guns are typically considered aggravated assaults.

Another type of aggravated assault depends on the specific relationships between the perpetrator and the victim. For example, caretakers responsible for patients who cannot care for themselves could face aggravated assault charges if they threaten to harm the people they are caring for.

How Do You Prove Assault?

To prove any assault, prosecutors will need to prove all the elements beyond a reasonable doubt. When prosecutors are seeking aggravated assault charges, the prosecutors also have to prove the aggravating factors, such as:

  • The use of a deadly weapon
  • The infliction of grievous bodily harm
  • Whether any victims are members of a protected class
  • Intent to commit further crimes following the assault

Just like in any criminal case, prosecutors and police will look for witnesses and physical evidence to prove guilt. You and your attorney can try to create doubt about the prosecutor’s evidence and witness reliability. If your attorney can give the jury any reasonable doubt that you did not commit assault, you should be found not guilty.

What Are the Penalties for Assault?

The penalties for assault charges depend on the jurisdiction and the factors of each case. Factors can include:

  • Extent of any harm
  • Type of victim
  • Criminal background
  • Other included criminal charges

Simple assault is generally a misdemeanor, which can carry a jail sentence of up to one year. The judge may be more lenient if you are a first-time offender. Lesser penalties might include probation, community service, mandatory educational programs, or victim restitution.

Aggravated assault charges are usually felonies that carry more serious penalties. Depending on the state and the seriousness of the crime, felony assault can result in prison time of more than a year and a permanent felony criminal record.

Get Help Defending Yourself Against Assault Charges

If you are arrested for assault, there are different criminal defense strategies available. These include being forced into action under duress or acting in self-defense or in defense of others. Other legal defenses against assault charges include false accusations or a lack of evidence.

Your criminal defense lawyer can give you legal advice about the criminal charges and your legal defense options. Your attorney can defend you in court to help you avoid an assault conviction. Your lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor to have your charges reduced so you can avoid jail time.

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